The technical problems with the Obamacare insurance exchanges are no surprise, are further evidence the whole program should be delayed or scrapped and Americans will be even more horrified when they can get somewhere on the website, according to health-care policy expert Grace-Marie Turner.
The first 10 days of the Obamacare insurance exchanges have been a technological and public relations mess for the administration. Many Americans have suffered through hours of stalled or crashed websites, no reporter has yet been able to navigate the site and many people have entered personal information that online security experts believe could make them targets for identity theft.
A few users seemed simply confused, but the overwhelming number of comments were critical and many of those were scathing. Complaints about the application process had three recurring themes: long waits, glitches and sticker shock. There was also much ridicule of the site’s inability to handle “tremendous demand.”
None of this comes as a shock to Turner, who heads the highly respected Galen Institute.
"I am absolutely not surprised," she told WND. "Of course, we know the federal government is running the exchanges for about 35 of the states and the other states were setting up their own exchanges. All of them basically have to do the same thing. It is just a gargantuan undertaking to not only figure out how to set up a new website that gathers a tremendous amount of information from individuals: their name, their birth date, where they work, their Social Security number, the names and birth dates of their children, how much they earn, their health habits. All of this has to be gathered just for people to be able to apply to see if they are eligible for coverage and then to pick a plan."
Turner added, "Then all that has to be assimilated with federal databases, with the IRS, with Treasury, with Health and Human Services, with state databases to see if you're eligible or on Medicaid, with Homeland Security to see if they're actually a citizen, with the Peace Corps for some reason," she said, noting the administration engaged in a massive rush job to get the exchanges up by the start of October.
"They were still letting contracts for this this July. This law was passed three-and-a-half years ago. They were just getting around to letting the contracts. Even some of the physical equipment like switches to let all these computers talk to each other, were not ordered until this summer," she said. "It's an example of when the federal government tries to run something. They try to re-engineer one-sixth of our economy. They just can't do it."
The exchange problems are only the start of the misery, according to Turner. She said once people get to check out different plans on the exchanges, the stark realities of this new system will kick in.
"I think a lot of people think they're going to get free insurance. This is not just some online shopping. You're required by the federal government to buy this insurance, and it's going to be very expensive, even with the subsidies. People are not expecting to have to spend $100, $200, $300, $400 a month for health insurance for the rest of our lives, even for some of these policies that seem to be what the government considers to be the more affordable ones," Turner said.
"Then on top of that, they're very likely to have deductibles of several thousand dollars as well as co-payments on top of the premiums. Once people start to see the cost of this, there are going to be a lot of second thoughts. I think there's going to be a lot of sticker shock."
President Obama and Democrats in Congress are not only blaming Republican opposition to Obamacare for the current fiscal divides but also blame the GOP for the very rocky roll-out of the exchanges because of staunch opposition every step of the way. Turner said the GOP has nothing to do with the problems.
"It's ludicrous," she said. "The administration has well over a trillion dollars to spend on this program and has had all sorts of slush funds. It's given out money right and left. For them to blame the Republican Congress for the fact that they didn't get around to letting the contracts for the switching equipment for the exchanges until July, how on Earth is that the fault of a Republican Congress?"
By all accounts, web traffic has been said to be in the millions, but the actual application and enrollment numbers appear to be exceptionally low. Turner is curious not only to see the enrollment numbers in the coming months but what type of patients are enrolling.
"What really is going to matter in the sustainability of these exchanges is who is enrolling. The people who are most likely to enroll and pay these high prices are those with a lot of health problems. If that happens, then I think you're going to start to see a death spiral for these exchanges," said Turner, who noted that the administration has to have young, healthy people buy coverage to prevent premium costs from shooting through the roof.
"Young people are already being required to pay a much higher premium than their health status would suggest they should and than they would in an open, competitive market," Turner said. "Those are the very people you most want to get in, and they're the ones who are going to have to pay the highest relative premium to their health status.
"They're penalizing the very people that they need to get into these. I think that over the long term, that the way this is set up is designed not to work."